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A Youthful View of the World
Mt. Vernon Place, Washington, August 29, 1933
Dottie Harding, aged eleven, was just about the most formidable kid in the neighborhood. As she said herself, she had something on everybody. Even kids much older had to come to her if they wanted cigarettes, a drink of whiskey, or a look at some dirty under-the-counter comic books. She could also, on occasion, arrange a bet on a horse race. That is, if eight kids put up a quarter each, she could take the two dollars to a bookie she knew. If the horse won, Dottie would, of course, take a cut.
With her mother she was entirely different. Quiet and bookish, Dottie did well at school. That, in itself, was enough to convince Cynthia of her well-being. If the latter had investigated more thoroughly, she might have found that her daughter didn't drink, smoke, or gamble. Not even when she was alone with her friends. As Dottie put it, she only made it possible for other people to do those things.
The fact that her mother still occasionally had Katie stay with her, even now that she was practically of an age to baby-sit herself, seemed strange to the other kids. A fourteen year old red-headed boy whom Dottie held in deep contempt was even now teasing her about her "nursemaid." The reply was swift.
"Who do you think gets me the booze I sell to you, fuckface?"
That brought a laugh from the other two kids on the library steps. Dottie didn't deign even to look at them, and instead rose to look around the square.
The library was in a tiny park in the middle of the square. The buildings on all sides had rather generous proportions, and a peculiar old man who hung around said it had once been a good neighborhood. Until then, Dottie had never realized that it was a bad neighborhood. Right now, she hardly cared. It was a quiet Sunday morning, and she took up a position which allowed her to see anything moving in the square, on Twelfth St., or even up Rhode Island Avenue.
Dottie was nervous, and was even quicker than usual to lash out at anyone who gave her trouble. She was nervous because she was all dressed up, and was shortly going out with her mother. Her mother was definitely an awesome figure. Even though Dottie called her by her first name, and saw her naked, she was the only person Dottie knew who frightened her.
It wasn't so long ago that Cynthia had wielded a hair brush with vicious efficiency. Worse, she could still make remarks. Sometimes they were spoken with a bitter tone, and sometimes they were made humorously. Either way, they made Dottie want to retire from the world as quickly as possible. On the other hand, praise from Cynthia, while infrequent and sparing, made Dottie feel warm for days.
It was Mary Elizabeth who now crossed the street and approached the kids on the library steps. She, too, was dressed up, and Dottie hardly recognized her until she called,
"Hi, Dottie. Are you all set? Thank God it's cool today."
Dottie responded enthusiastically. She was glad that Mary Elizabeth was going with them, and invited her to take a seat on the steps. She even brushed off a place of honor so that Mary Elizabeth's white dress wouldn't be soiled.
Dottie privately regarded Mary Elizabeth more as one of the kids than as an adult. Except in one important area. Mary Elizabeth helped her in the library, and found good books for her to read. None of the other kids could have done that. None of them even went into the library for that matter. Dottie was proud to be the only one.
At other times, though, Dottie had to look out for Mary Elizabeth. That time at the market, for example. It had been a few years ago, but Dottie remembered it very well. She had only been a real little kid herself, but she had known more than Mary Elizabeth.
Dottie had been only ten feet from Mary Elizabeth as she did a little business with old Willa Jane Jones. Then Willa Jane saw Big Nail over at the next stand. Big Nail was her man, sort of, or had been. Anyhow, Willa Jane had spent money on him, and cooked for him, and everything. Big Nail had stomped up on her when he was drunk, and she didn't complain to anyone. But some said he'd bothered Little Jane.
Big Nail was with a young girl, very pretty and stylish. He looked good himself, with a suit, shiny shoes, and a straw hat. And it was only about ten in the morning. Dottie had known that trouble was coming. She backed off just as Willa Jane had the razor out of her stocking. Big Nail apparently didn't have his with him. He just put up his arms in front of his face while she slashed them to ribbons. Dottie was out of range by then. She knew Willa Jane might turn on anyone when she was like that. Then Dottie ran right into Mary Elizabeth with her mouth open. Mary Elizabeth was going the wrong way. Toward the action. With her baby on her arm. It had taken Dottie about half a second to get her turned around and moving away. Afterward, Dottie hadn't mentioned it at all. She still saw Willa Jane around. Willa Jane didn't talk about it either.
Dottie remembered how, in the old days, Cynthia was always telling her to be very nice to Mary Elizabeth. Cynthia had seemed to think that Mary Elizabeth was always about to go away, and that she would unless everyone was real nice to her. Nowadays, she did go away for long visits to her family, often a month or more. But she always came back. Each time, as she left, Dottie would ask her when she was coming back. Mary Elizabeth never seemed to know, and would act embarrassed. Now, Dottie no longer worried that she wouldn't come back. Besides, the only time Dottie ever got letters or cards was when Mary Elizabeth was away. She was the only kid in the neighborhood who ever did get any mail, and she would show it to everyone. At least, she let them look at the envelopes or the pictures on the postcards. If anyone tried to read them, they got a fat lip.
At first, years ago, Dottie had been careful to tell Mary Elizabeth only what she told her mother. That is, practically nothing. But, unlike Cynthia, Mary Elizabeth was around all the time. She saw things. And, while she could be foolish, she wasn't dumb. It was by degrees that Dottie found out how little Mary Elizabeth talked to Cynthia, and how little she said when she did. Marie was the one likely to flap her mouth. But Marie didn't come out of her apartment much. Marie's little four-eyed brat of a kid had learned what happened if he told his mother anything about Dottie. So, all in all, Dottie felt pretty good about things. She didn't actually confide in Mary Elizabeth. She didn't have to. Mary Elizabeth already knew that she wasn't like the other kids.
Dottie had no hesitation in asking her now,
"Do you know where we're going?"
"To Arlington National Cemetary to visit Admiral Moffett's grave."
"He was the guy with the blimp, wasn't he?"
The other kids didn't even know about the Akron, so Mary Elizabeth had to explain it all to them.
It sounded pretty stupid to Dottie, and she couldn't imagine why her mother wanted to visit the grave. So far as Dottie knew, Cynthia had never visited anyone's grave. But Dottie nodded as if it all made sense. Mary Elizabeth asked,
"Have you met the Japanese lady who's going with us?"
This was sounding crazier all the time. Dottie had never heard of any Japanese lady. All she knew about the Japanese was that they were very bad people indeed. Fortunately, the other kids had drifted away, so she didn't have to pretend she knew all about it. It turned out that Mary Elizabeth didn't know much more.
"Your mother invited me because the Japanese lady and I went to the same college. Except, she's a little older, so we weren't there at the same time."
Dottie again nodded as if that explained it all. Even with Mary Elizabeth she didn't want to act stupid.
Before long, a taxi pulled up in front of the house and honked. Cynthia came down the steps with a big paper bag, and greeted a lady who got out of the taxi. Dottie and Mary Elizabeth crossed from the library, and introductions were made.
Dottie didn't like Mitsy. She fluttered and bounced, and had too many ribbons and bows. Dottie didn't like her name either. Mitsy. What kind of fool name was that? Dottie also didn't like it when people she had just met exclaimed over her. All this business about being darling and pretty and cute. If they got near a mud puddle, she'd show Mitsy who was darling and cute. Still, Dottie knew what her mother expected of her, so she smiled and hung her head a little, as if she were shy.
Dottie got to sit in front with the driver while the three women chattered away in the back seat. They might only be going to a cemetary, but the ride was a revelation to Dottie. While a huge sum clicked up on the meter, they tore through the downtown Washington that Dottie had never seen. They even went past the White House, and the driver pointed out to Dottie where the President's bedroom was. But the part Dottie really liked best was when they shot around curves, and people walking had to jump to get out of the way.
The cemetary part was really strange. The women had been gabbing away like anything, but then, when they got out of the taxi, they quieted right down. Even Mitsy.
Cynthia had pulled out of her bag a big wreath of flowers. Holding it up, she led the way up a slight grassy rise to Admiral Moffett's grave. Mitsy was on her right and Mary Elizabeth, slightly behind, on her left. Their high heels, which had crunched on the gravel, now looked wobbly on the grass. Dottie, with her flat shoes, walked easily. Too easily. It seemed as if she ought to wobble too. Not sure what to do, she trailed after Mary Elizabeth. Then she looked back at the cab driver to see what he thought. Dottie immediately recognized the look on his face.
In her eleven years Dottie had seen almost everything, and had formed a poor opinion of a good deal of it. In just the way that she had no inclination to drink, smoke, or gamble, she had never joined in playing doctor, or in any of the other childhood sex games. But she knew the look of lust on the faces of men and boys, and knew that they would pay to get what they wanted.
Looking now at the women, she saw what the taxi driver wanted. Her mother, always beautiful, was acting like a movie star. So were the other two. Dottie knew what movie stars looked like, and how they behaved. As the richest kid in the neighborhood, she went to more movies than anyone. Her mother, with the light breeze just touching her hair and dress, really looked better than any movie star Dottie had ever seen. Dottie felt sure that Cynthia was the one the driver wanted most.
Finding herself a little out of her depth, Dottie skittered up beside Mary Elizabeth, and almost took her hand. Mary Elizabeth, not so much taller than Dottie, smiled at her and whispered something she didn't catch.
When Cynthia stopped in front of the grave, Dottie's mind was drawn back to Mary Elizebth's account of the death of this admiral. The Akron, a huge dirigible, had been out in front of the fleet scouting when the gale had come up. The admiral had turned directly into it. Then, as the fleet watched, the Akron had broken up in mid-air. Parts of it fell all over the ocean. The fleet steamed up as fast as it could, but no one was left alive. Dottie thought about it as she heard her mother speak seriously in a low voice. She then whispered into Mary Elizabeth's ear something that was bothering her.
"I don't see how they could have found his body in the storm. Maybe they found a big dead fish and put it in the grave instead."
Dottie was still considering this possibility when she heard peculiar noises coming from Mary Elizabeth. Something seemed to be wrong with her. Then she started crying. Or not crying. It appeared, to Dottie's amazement, that she was laughing.
Cynthia turned to Mary Elizabeth with fury in her face. Dottie, almost in terror, drew back. Mary Elizabeth, too far gone to even notice Cynthia's threatening aspect, blurted out what Dottie had said. It was the first time that Mary Elizabeth had ever told on her. Dottie was ready to run. Cynthia staggered, put her hand to her forehead, and then clutched Mary Elizabeth as she, too, started laughing. In another second there were three crazy women laughing, screaming, and reeling around as they half fell against each other. Dottie was no longer frightened. Whatever had happened, they seemed delighted about it. No one was angry at her. On the contrary, they all seemed very pleased with her. Even her mother put an arm around her and hugged her. But what had happened? Dottie had no idea. Nothing her mother had ever done had baffled her so much as the events of this day.
The women had now moved away some distance toward the waiting taxi. Dottie picked up the wreath that Cynthia had dropped. She stood alone with it, mourning Admiral Moffett. Or, at least, the fish that lay in memorial to him.
Lafayette Park, Washington, August 30, 1933.
When Cynthia had separated from Mitsy the day before, she had felt sure that they understood each other. But Mary Elizabeth and Dottie had been there, and it had been impossible to talk.
Mary Elizabeth had explained it all to a very confused Dottie in the ice cream parlor after their visit to the cemetary. They had set out seriously, but had felt silly when they got there, particularly when they realized that it was probably only a fish in the grave. That, together with a big dish of chocolate ice cream with chocolate jimmies, had mollifed Dottie.
While Mary Elizabeth was trying to explain the adult world to the next generation, Mitsy had picked up Cynthia's hand and tapped it once with her finger. She had then smiled in a way that seemed more Jewish than Japanese.
Now, the next day, Cynthia was apologizing for having kept Mitsy in the dark so long.
"I trusted you from the beginning, but, working for the navy, I had to report meeting you. And then, when I told them you got interrogated about me, that seemed to them too good an opportunity to pass up. I only just got permission to let you in on it."
The two women had started out by walking along the paths of the park, sometimes facing toward the White House across the street. When Mitsy spoke, she had a way of slowing and turning toward her friend.
"I've half known all along. I invited it, I think. But it was the trip to the cemetary that really did it. My husband was enthusiastic about it when I told him, and he even wanted to go too. It just didn't seem possible that you and he could want to do the same thing."
As Mitsy said this, she looked rather sad. She then stopped and poked at a discarded wine bottle with her umbrella.
"The Japanese keep their parks cleaner than this."
"Are you going to have trouble going from being a clean Japanese to a dirty American?"
Mitsy half laughed at the half joke, as if the change of nationality had already taken place.
"Your people were right in not telling me earlier. Until now I could pretend I wasn't a traitor."
"That word has such force doesn't it? I wonder if it's fair."
"Fair or not, no one likes traitors. Even the side they go over to doesn't trust them."
Cynthia changed the subject, she hoped not too obviously.
"Do you remember two men who came to visit you one morning, and tried to convert you to the Jehovah's Witnesses?"
Mitsy brightened and asked who the men had really been. Cynthia told her and continued,
"I explained to Commander Murphy how you'd been treated in Japan, practically from day one. After meeting you, he decided you were all right."
"I suppose I am all right. I couldn't do this if I had brothers in the Japanese armed forces, but there's really no one I care about that I'm leaving behind. Even my friends are all Americans."
Cynthia seized upon her opportunity,
"Then you can't really be a traitor, can you?"
"Oh, I think so. You wouldn't do what I'm doing, no matter what."
As Cynthia tried to imagine defecting to Japan, Mitsy broke in,
"My great crime in Japan was looking foreign. The sort of foreign devil woman who's beyond shame. That is, I looked the way a typical Japanese thinks a foreign prostitute looks. Even if my behavior was strictly moral, it didn't matter. My family felt as if they had raised a prostitute. They couldn't throw me out because I hadn't done anything. But they were furious at me just the same. I could spite them by being too good for them to disown the way you could spite your family by being bad."
"So you never left the straight and narrow at all?"
"Well, at a certain point, I began doing things to irritate them. I developed serious academic interests, for example. A girl isn't supposed to in Japan. But I became a biologist, just like Emperor Hirohito. Once, I brought home one of his scholarly papers, and left it around."
"They couldn't object to that, could they?"
"It drove them crazy. I guess it was a bit diabolical. For a boy it would have been fine, but, you see, when a rebellious girl did that, it was something like taking the name of the emperor in vain. A Japanese is supposed to prostrate himself or herself in front of the emperor. One isn't supposed to speak airily of his views on entomology, as if he were a colleague."
Cynthia found herself laughing at what was obviously a serious matter for Mitsy.
"I'm sorry. It just struck me as funny that a society like that gives children hundreds of additional ways of getting at their parents. Did they forbid you to read the writings of your emperor?"
"They couldn't. That wasn't one of the rules. They also couldn't prevent me from learning more than the boys in school. Although they did try to occupy my time with tea ceremonies and flower arrangement, and so on. But I always outsmarted them."
"Did you make friends with your teachers?"
"Not much. They taught me, sometimes well. But my family was powerful and vocal. The teachers knew that they could be accused of leading me in the wrong direction, and they were nervous about it. It wasn't until I got to America that I felt real encouragement from a teacher."
They were now sitting on a bench, and Mitsy paused, lifted her foot, and pointed the toe of her shoe at a trolley as it moved down Pennsylvania Avenue. She then resumed.
"It's almost impossible to find a Japanese man who doesn't have these traditional attitudes. Anyhow, if there are exceptions, I had no way of meeting them. Hiroshi is ashamed to be married to me, and he thinks my parents tricked him. He was promised a plain girl, but one who was plain in a modest Japanese way. Not one who'd cause other men to laugh at him."
At that point, Cynthia was completely confident that Mitsy's loyalties had shifted. So much so that she raised a sensitive subject.
"We've got it arranged for you to become an American citizen. Also to divorce your husband if you want to. Of course, we'd like you to stay with him quite a while so that we can feed them information. I realize that this condemns you to living in a little Japan in Washington, but ..."
Mitsy stopped her.
"I've got to earn my way in. Besides, it's not so bad. I don't hate Hiroshi. He's as much a victim as I am. Only he's not very intelligent, and he doesn't understand how different things could be. He spends much of his time being afraid that people are making fun of him, but he doesn't take it out on me very much. He's never brutal, for example."
"That doesn't sound like much consolation."
"Then there's another reason for preserving appearances, at least for a while. The attache, Captain Yamamoto, is about the only officer who's been nice to me. He's being promoted to Rear-Admiral with a sea-going command soon. If there is to be a scandal, I'd want it to happen long after he leaves, so he wouldn't be blamed for it."
Cynthia was rather surprised at this.
"I didn't know that you had good relations with any Japanese officers."
"Captain Yamamoto's the only one. He seems to sense that there's something wrong in our marriage. He keeps telling me that people under-estimate Hiroshi because he's so quiet. The message seems to be that, if I stay with him, I'll find him more satisfying later on."
Cynthia's anxiety changed to alarm. If the Japanese naval attache knew that Mitsy wanted to leave her husband, it would surely occur to him that she might also want to defect. After all, divorce wasn't allowed in her circles. When she said as much to her friend, Mitsy replied,
"You don't have to worry about that. Captain Yamamoto hates the intelligence men. He'd never say anything like that to them."
"It sounds as if you're walking a tightrope to me. I hope it doesn't give you nightmares."
"Anyway, I'm infinitely better off here than in Japan. I can go out and see my friends whenever I want. I can continue to live this way until the war breaks out."
This sounded as much a declaration of faith as one could ever expect from an agent. Cynthia raised a practical point.
"They might transfer your husband back to Japan before that. These tours don't generally last more than a couple of years, do they?"
"They won't do that. The men who question me try to conceal it, but they're absolutely fascinated by the information we give them. They'll keep Hiroshi here ten years if they have to, just to keep me in touch with you."
"Let's hope that isn't necessary."
Cynthia let stand her implication that it might be. Mitsy was becoming increasingly animated, and showed signs of bouncing to her feet as she spoke.
"Another thing is that I can behave in whatever way I want. I've never been with anyone but Hiroshi in bed. I might like to have affairs the way you do. With Americans, of course."
"If you have all American friends, and lovers besides, won't they suspect that you're working for us?"
Mitsy threw back her head and laughed delightedly.
"Never. It's their weak spot. They'll want me to have affairs with American officers so I can gather more information. It'll never occur to them that a Japanese woman would act as I am. They think that, no matter how often they kick a woman in the face, she'll loyally come back for more."
Cynthia shifted nervously on the bench and wondered if Mitsy was really above suspicion in Japanese eyes. She hadn't bargained on her friend's undertaking a series of amorous adventures. On the other hand, Cynthia supposed that it was a reasonable return for agreeing to stay with Tanaka ten years if necessary. Before she could say anything, Mitsy jumped up, twirled, and posed herself with her umbrella held in a dramatic position. The White House provided the background as she spoke.
"Tell me, do you think that your notorious Admiral King would find me
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